MAKING A SCENE - performative gestures of noise, interference, and destruction

The symposium Making a Scene: performative gestures of noise, interference, and destruction focuses on staged disturbances across the arts - whether on theatre stages, in museums, in archives, concert halls, in social media, or in other public spaces. Presenters include scholars from across the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies (IKK), Copenhagen University, as well as invited keynote(s) and artists. The occasion for the symposium is the 300 years celebration of Danish theatre in the fall of 2022. 

Making a scene is commonly associated with a public display of affect that draws attention to those involved, typically an offender and an offended. With the raised encouragement for ‘killjoys’ (Ahmed) to call out inequality and harassment, be it sexual, racist, gender-based or otherwise, making a scene has shifted from the private into the wider political arena as performative gestures of uproar and interference. A similar displacement is taking place across the arts.

Gustav Metzger, who organized The Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in London 1966, argued in a truly anti-capitalist and environmental vein, that the artist should be a destroyer rather than a creator of yet more things. In Derrida’s philosophical terms, the notion of deconstruction draws on Heidegger’s interlinking of Destruktion and Abbau, signalling a destructuring dismantling of the layers of a system rather than simply its destruction.

Historically, there are numerous examples of art disrupting not only the social order but also the art system itself. Since the historical avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, artists from composers to poets and painters, theatre directors and choreographers, have challenged conventions of taste and reconfigured the relation of art to systems of financial and socio-political power. With Fluxus and body art in the 1960s, violent gestures towards the elevated instruments of classical music or towards the artist’s body became crucial in the creation of new structures and values within the contemporary art of the neo-avant-gardes. And, since the 1990s, interventionist forms of artistic practice have sought to change and dismantle systemic power relations by interference and displacement rather than openly revolutionary forms of expression.

In recent years, however, the return to more explicitly political gestures aimed at tearing down or re-materializing existing institutional symbols and structures has been met with oppressive backlashes. For instance, when critical art/writing addressing the experiences of women giving birth is rejected in favour of so-called universal themes (e.g. historical novels, existential questions in Christianity, and exofiction rather than autofiction); when art that critiques the continued oppression of colonialism is dismissed as woke. And when individuals who call out injustices are labelled as ’overly sensitive’ (da. krænkelsesparate).

Taking these disturbances and their public responses into consideration, our symposium invites proposals of individual papers, panels, workshops and/or artistic contributions from across the disciplines of the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies.

The many topics we are curious about include, but are not restricted to:

  • protests, applause, and other noisy expressions of affect
  • killjoy performances and accusations of hypersensitivity
  • unsettling activations of museal collections and other archives
  • imaginary onlookers, claques, and fake audiences
  • the ending of authorship and new beginnings of other, ecological methodologies
  • artistic hacking and activist disturbances online
  • scenes of order and disorder in the political domain

Participation and registration

Participation in the conference is open to IKK’s staff and students as well as invited members of the general public. The deadline for registration will be announced at a later time.

The occasion for the symposium is the 300 years celebration of Danish theatre in the fall of 2022. The symposium is organised by the scholars from Theatre and Performance Studies and hosted by the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies in collaboration with Art as Forum – who take this opportunity to highlight the use of theatricality in art and politics.

Call for papers

The deadline for submitting a proposal was 01 June 2022.